BRUNSWICK — Tanner Tanguay of New Gloucester met his dad, Lance Cpl. Jeromy Tanguay, for the first time Wednesday night in a cold parking lot.
The 5-month-old boy, bundled in a knit blanket, opened his blue eyes for his father, who hugged him and kissed him on the cheek.
Around them, 111 Marine Reservists from around New England — members of Company A, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment — were being dismissed after 10 months’ separation from their families.
“Hoooahh!” yelled the Marines as they spilled into the crowd that began gathering three hours earlier.
“It’s been so long,” said Kristen Crowley of Bath, who was reunited with her husband, John Crowley Jr. “For a while, the time goes by quickly. But when he gets closer, it slows. Minutes take hours.”
The crowd began forming at 4 p.m. at the new Marine Reserve Center at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station. The building, in a stand of trees near the old base’s weapons compound, was decorated with signs.
Whether written in crayon, marker, finger paints or on T-shirts, all seemed to welcome someone home by name. For each, the texts, phone calls and the Skype chats were finally over.
“The worst was during the holidays,” said Barb Gabri of Monmouth, who was reunited with her son, Lance Cpl. Joseph Gabri. “He hasn’t been home much for 15 months. He missed the holidays the year before because he was at boot camp at Parris Island.”
The guys left on May 5, 2011, three days after Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. Navy Seals. The Marine unit’s job was to mentor the Afghan military in security and counter-insurgency.
Each man in the unit returned.
For more than half, it was their second or third trip to the Middle East. The unit last deployed in 2006. Some were with Alpha Company then. Some had deployed with other units.
This time, as always, lives moved on.
Larissa Cayer of Rumford often Skyped and wrote e-mails to her boyfriend, Sgt. Jason Wing. He missed her college graduation and her success at getting her first job, teaching fourth-graders at Guy E. Rowe Elementary School in Norway.
“You go through all the steps,” she said. “There’s grieving, and you get set in your ways.”
There’s also acceptance.
Rather than lament the separation, she incorporated it into the classroom. Her students wrote cards that they sent to Afghanistan. Wing talked to the children on the Internet. Now that he’s home, he plans to visit them in the coming weeks.
One of the first people to welcome the men home was Gov. Paul LePage, who greeted them when they landed at Portland International Jetport.
“On behalf of all Mainers, I extend my sincerest thank-you to these courageous service members and their families for the sacrifice and commitment they have shown to our great state and nation,” LePage said in a prepared statement.
Ninety minutes later in Brunswick, where the families waited, there were no speeches.
The crowd, which had gathered in a gym, spilled into a rear parking lot of the reserve enter.
As they waited, someone began singing “God Bless America.” They readied their cameras and shook in the cold.
When the Marines appeared, whistles and shrieks erupted. And when the order came — “Dismissed” — the crowd surged ahead.
Tanner’s mother, Courtnee Arruda, stood in the back and held her baby tightly. She had no plans for her fiance’s arrival, no fancy, celebratory dinners or pricey trips.
“We’ll be together,” she said, beaming.
As the mob thinned, Arruda moved forward. A moment later, she found her Marine.
Finally, her family was complete.